Equal Justice for People with Developmental Disabilities

wooden gavelPeople with developmental disabilities are coming into contact with the criminal justice system in increasing numbers both as victims and witnesses of crime, and as alleged and convicted perpetrators of crime. The criminal justice and the disability service systems are ill-prepared to ensure that individuals with developmental disabilities are afforded their legal rights of due process.

The Equal Justice for People with Developmental Disabilities project will establish a replicable local advocacy model at the municipal court level. This model will provide a local court advocate who will advocate within the court system so that the rights of individuals with developmental disabilities are ensured. In addition, the Equal Justice project will build local capacity by providing criminal justice mentoring to self-advocates and family members, and by providing training and technical assistance to local criminal justice professionals. Trained family members and self advocates will provide training and support to other self-advocates and family members so that they have an increased capacity to support themselves and others when they come in contact with the criminal justice system.

Sexuality and People with Disabilities

Sexuality is an integral part of human lives. It fulfills a number of personal and social needs but when exercised irresponsibly it can have a variety of negative outcomes including violent behavior.

The Institute infuses the important topic of healthy sexuality throughout many of its trainings as a proactive tool to prevent becoming a victim or defendant. The objective is to foster the understanding of sexual responsibility in its broadest sense. And, while personal responsibility is crucial to anyone's health, communities also have important responsibilities, so the message must reach beyond the individual. Communities may provide access to developmentally and culturally appropriate sexuality education, respect for diversity and freedom from violence.

Department of Health and Human Services' Healthy People 2010 Initiative

Guide to Community Preventive Services


Resources for family members and professionals seeking additional information on the topics of the criminal justice system and sexuality.


  • Autism and First Responders: Seeing Beyond the Smoke (Runtime: 15:46. Captioned.)

  • Disabilities and the Criminal Justice System: Best Practices for Law Enforcement and Corrections (Runtime: 15:46. Captioned.)

  • Disabilities and the Criminal Justice System: Best Practices for Law Enforcement and Corrections (Audio described version. Runtime: 15:48. Captioned.)

  • Communicating with Victims and Suspects: Significant Speech Disabilities (Runtime: 7:11. Captioned.)

  • Recorded Three-Part Webinar Series:
    Prosecuting and Defending Criminal Cases Involving Persons with Disabilities

  • Understanding the Criminal Justice System in Pennsylvania:
    Under Arrest, a step-by-step review of the process—from the arrest, through the preliminary arraignment, preliminary hearing, arraignment, trial, sentencing and possible incarceration.
    Convicted, a succinct overview of the pre-sentence investigation, including the bail process and the role of probation.

  • Encountering People with Disabilities in Emergency Situations. Recorded webinar for first responders on how to communicate with people with disabilities and printable, customizable companion document designed for first responders.

Articles and Journals

Lists of articles and journals

Training Topics

The Institute provides training at the state and national level to agencies, professionals, family members, and people with disabilities around incidents and victimization. Topics can be customized to meet the needs of each organization. Topics include:

  • Disparities to receiving due process from suspect and defendant;
  • Healthy sexuality - training for parents as a proactive means of not becoming a victim or defendant;
  • Transitional training for professionals working with students moving from school to work or group home to community;
  • State-wide, cross-system training on a variety of criminal justice topics as a partner in Project Illumination;
  • ADA adherence, communication and improved interaction with people with disabilities, and general awareness of issues about people with disabilities for criminal justice professionals including lawyers, judges, law enforcement;
  • Personal safety for students with disabilities—a proactive approach to avoid being a victim or defendant;
  • Customized training on the criminal justice topics listed above, based on needs of group;
  • Guest lecture for college students

Technical Assistance

The Institute's Criminal Justice program provides assistance to agencies and professionals to better serve people will disabilities. Topics include:

  • How to communicate with people with disabilities
  • How to set up office/building for accessibility
  • Information and referral - linking people and agencies with needed resources


Visit the Institute on Disabilities Publications page for available DVDs and more.

For more information about Criminal Justice programs, training, technical assistance, and other resources, please contact

Beverly Frantz PhD, Project Director
voice: 215-204-5078 | TTY: 1-215-204-1805